Tag Archives: Hindu

Uttar Pradesh Diaries

Travelling through Western Uttar Pradesh for a story, these are experts from my dairy.

The sun is turning a shade of flaming orange towards the end of a cold December afternoon. There is a slight nip in the air as I sit down to interview a young man in a city in Western Uttar Pradesh.

I have walked in with trepidation for this interview but as a journalist I have decided to investigate what lies beyond the headlines. We sit down to talk about the recent conversions in Agra. He corrects me, “ghar wapsi.”

“Madam do you know our history? Muslims came into this country as invaders and forced these people to convert by the fear of sword. We haven’t re-converted them. We have brought them back to their rightful home.”

“We live in a democracy. They have nothing to fear now,” he adds.

We talked about home coming of hundreds of thousands of people. And the girls who have been rescued and brought back home too. “Girls?”

I am told how Muslim boys stand outside girls colleges and “make gullible Hindu girls fall in love with him.” Once blinded in love, the girls lose the ability to think. They become ready to convert. He tells me about the counseling session that are held with girls and their parents when they come to know of the trap these girls have fallen into.

He tells me how his heart bleeds and his eyes fill with tears during these motivational discussions. How he feels belittled that “anyone can come and take away our sisters. Is this what is left of our Hindu culture?”

Not more than 250 kilometers away, in the capital city of India the day is going to be filled with marches, discussions, protests and safety audits. It’s 16th December. Two years after the girl on the bus was brutally gang-raped and left for dead.

Her death has been a turning point for the feminist movement. For women to have control over their bodies. For consent. For being unapologetic in public spaces. For making private spaces safe for them. The battle is long and hard.

And as the sun is going down, the sky is dashed with orange, I wonder if it is a losing battle.

***

I travel to cities, towns and villages in Uttar Pradesh. I meet people who belong to Muslim, Christian and Hindu faiths. I meet people who converted, who-reconverted, who remain in a state of limbo.

I meet a 60 year old who hides his Bible in a locker in house. He was “brought home” by the Right wing groups earlier this year. He cries as he tells me Christ or Ram, they are all messengers of the God. “How can I choose either if I just choose God?” There is a human tragedy underneath the stories of coercion and conversion. Of people torn. Of losing faith in the garb of religion.

***

On a sunny morning I am meeting a few more activists from Bajrang Dal and VHP. “Madam, it’s the women. They have forgotten our culture. They are easily swayed. They are villagers and don’t know right from wrong. That’s why we hold awareness camps.” I am shown a list of villages where people have converted to Christianity. “We’ll go to all of them for awareness programs,” I am told.

I am told how women used to wake up at 4.00 AM and light a diya under the Tusli plant. Now they wake up at 10.00 AM and are busy on Facebook and Whatsapp. They need to be reminded of their cultural values.

***

A 22 year old young activist is dressed in a jacket, jeans and sneakers. He wants to show me a Whatsapp video of cows being slaughtered. Squeamish, I say, “No.” he turns to my colleague who also refuses to see it. Disappointed he keeps phone back in his jacket pocket.

He tells me he used to work in a Gurgaon mall as a salesman. But in a bid to impress me he tells me, he was the store manager. It was an international brand. But it’s closed now.

Another activist tells me how he’s always dreamt of travelling aborad. “I’ll start with Thailand. They have temples…you know?” I nod. “Then maybe Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.”

At the cusp of modernity and tradition, global and local, I wonder if they will start questioning their values as India progresses further?

***

On a grey winter evening, after the evening prayers I meet a Muslim scholar and we talk about the conversion issue. He bemoans that radicalizing the Hindu masses creates a reaction – radicalization of a segment of Muslims. The vicious cycle begins. And continues.

And of course the question veers off to “How many times do we have to prove that we are Indians?”

A few days later I am reminded of him when a Hindu activist asks me, “What do we do about the Pakistan in our very own country? You should see them cheering Pakistan in all the India Pakistan cricket matches.”

***

One sunny afternoon, I sit with them to learn the organizational structure of the Sangh Parivar. They have local, district, regional, state-wise and national units. They have volunteers starting from village-level going up to town, city and regional level. They are an organized bunch with a vast network to tap into. Just like political parties.

“Where do you get volunteers?” I ask.

They start with schools and local sports events and social services like health and awareness camps. Young minds are the easiest to influence or in their word, “to inculcate Hindu cultural values.” A volunteer tells me he started at 13. Now he is part of the cow protection unit in the city.

“What else do you do?”

“This and that…,” his voice falters. A moment later he is bragging to me about a legal case pending against him while he was trying to save cows from being slaughtered.

The intelligentsia, the voices from the liberal left, the centrists are no match for these organized armies of men.

***

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Is This The Man You Are Voting For?

There are exactly four paved roads in Juhapura, Ahmedabad.  The first is a national highway which cuts through the area, the second was constructed so trucks carrying solid waste could pass through the area, the third when the President of India visited a riot affected window house in the neighbourhood and the fourth was made after a Gujarat High Court intervention. Spread over 5 kilometers, the areas houses about 500,000 people. There are no sewage or water connections or a garbage management system.

It’s not a poor neighbourhood of Ahmedabad city. Judges, senior police and administrative officials, businessmen, small traders, working class people live cheek by jowl. No one in the rest of the city rents or sells them homes or commercial spaces.

There are no government buildings there – hospitals, secondary schools, ration shops. There is one government establishment – a police station. In 2011, a branch of a government bank opened here for the first time. Only because the central government came out with a rule that all minority areas must have banking facilities. Juhapura is a Muslim ghetto. It became one after the horrific 2002 riots. At that time the population of Juhapura was about 200,000. Within months it doubled.

It doesn’t matter that four feet of water enters homes during monsoon. Then the sanitary waste seeps into the borewells  meant for drinking water. That people fall ill every year. It just means that here – hopefully there will be safety in numbers, that at least there would be a chance to survive.

 

***

After months of using all my contacts and sources, having unanswered emails, phone calls unreturned or phone banged down in fear, I have finally found someone who is willing to talk about what happened in 2002. And when I get there – he is afraid to talk on-camera.

He starts talking about the Toofan of 1985. Toofan? Riot. And the Toofan of 1992-93 and then 2002. In 1985, he and the Hindu boys used to play cricket together on a vast piece of empty land between the mixed neighbourhood of Juhapura and the nearby largely Hindu area, ironically called the Unity Ground. And after the riots, a small wall dividing the area started extending into the field. In 1992, it extended further and now post-2002 Juhapura is a walled city. He calls the wall – border. At first I am uncomfortable at the use of the terminology.

But when I see the wall I am taken aback. It is a 30 feet tall structure and has rolled barbed-wire on top of it. Structure-wise I have seen smaller India-Pakistan borders than that. He turns to look at me and says quietly, “the wall is not a physical structure anymore. It is now built into the hearts of the people.” We continue to traverse the edge of the border. Organized, shiny apartment blocks and CCTVs peek from behind the Hindu area. On this side – garbage and human waste flood the streets. Because the Municipal Corporation refuses to build anything. Symbolically, a rotting, rusty ‘Work in Progress’ sign stands near the boundary wall.

I am appalled and disgusted in turns.

I ask him, “Can you go to the other side?” In a resigned voice, he tells me, “Not from this neighbourhood.” And then he adds, “at least at the Wagah border there is a gate.” There are small children playing cricket in one corner. Aged 10 and below, they were born and raised here. Division along communal lines wasn’t taught to them but it pervades through everything around them. They have learnt quickly that they are second class citizens of this country. A boy looks at my notebook and our camera, and mockingly says, “Apparently you are now in Pakistan.”

Someone asks me, “How can you tell 25 crore citizens of this country that we don’t belong here? That this is not our land.” I don’t have any answers.

 

***

“Are you still afraid?” I ask.

They smile at me. Like I am naive to even ask that question. “One fears death. And we have seen everything.” The elderly, the women, the young – all know their life is cheap.

A man tells me how in the first three days of riots VHP and Bajrang Dal ‘activists’, accompanied by the police would enter the area. Wave after wave would shout, “Kato, kato, miya ko kato.” (Butcher, butcher, butcher the Muslims). I cannot verify if he is exaggerating the words but the others surrounding him nod in agreement of the language used in those days.

Next day, a little girl who lives in the middle of Juhapura is accompanying us to the border for the first time. Before reaching there I ask her how does she imagine the border to be. Innocently she tells me, “I think it will be like the desert in the Kutch.” She talks nineteen to a dozen on the way, telling me about her favourite subject in school and how she loves horses and dogs and cats. When we reach the border she is suddenly very quiet. If she didn’t feel like an ‘other’ before, I am afraid she feels she is one now. And I wonder if it is too soon.

When a riot survivor describes me about the horror of seeing his son being hacked to death by a mob, I can’t look him in the eye. Instead I scribble notes in my notebook. “Should Modi be the next Prime Minister of India?” I ask. “No.No.No…he can’t be. We already live in enough fear,” he answers alarmed at that thought.

And I wonder is this the man people are voting for? Is alienating a section of the society the ‘Gujarat Model of Development’?

***

 

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